Cpt. Joel McNelly (pictured above) said the family of the victims were relieved to finally have a resolution in this case. Photo: Jalon Hill/QCity Metro

Nearly four decades after a mother and her 10-year-old son were found murdered in their northeast Charlotte home, homicide detectives with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department on Thursday announced an arrest in the case.

The mother, 26-year-old Sarah Mobley Hall, and her son, Derrick Mobley, were found dead in their home in the 1400 block of Ventura Way, in the Hidden Valley neighborhood, on March 14, 1984.

On Thursday, CMPD announced the arrest of James Thomas Pratt, who, according to the authorities, was linked to the crime through the genealogical testing of DNA evidence.

Pratt,60, was arrested at a hotel in York County, S.C., on Feb. 1, according to the police. He was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and was being held at the Mecklenburg Jail with no bond.

Hill’s parents have both died, but her siblings and Derrick’s father were informed of the arrest, Cpt. Joe McNelly told reporters during a Thursday press conference at CMPD headquarters.

“It’s just a few weeks shy of 40 years,” McNelly said of the case. “Not only are they [family members] elated that this happened, but they can finally put a really, really long chapter of their life to rest.”

Pratt, who was 22 years old at the time of the incident, has a history of misdemeanor arrests, but nothing consistent with the nature of the 1984 crime, McNelly said.

He recalled that when officers arrived at the crime scene, they found a door ajar and a foul odor coming from inside. The victims had been assaulted and strangled, McNelly said.

Hill and Pratt had a “friendly relationship,” McNelly said, adding that detectives have established no motive for the killings.

McNelly described Hill as a single mother who worked with special-needs children, including her son.

New technology

McNelly said advances in DNA technology helped the department identify Pratt as a suspect.

When homicide detectives got no results after submitting crime-scend DNA to a nationwide database, they turned to genealogy testing, which used the DNA to identify some of Pratt’s closest relatives, pinpointing him as a person of interest.

Solving crimes through genealogical testing has become more common in police departments nationwide. One of the most famous cases solved through genealogical testing involved the arrest of a suspect in California’s Golden State serial killer case.

McNelly said Charlotte has a number of criminals with little concern about being caught because their DNA isn’t in a law enforcement database.  

“Maybe your nephew’s [DNA} is, maybe somebody else’s is, and we’re gonna use all of that to our advantage within the confines of the law to bring justice for a family like this,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated James Pratt’s age. He is 60-years-old, not 56.

Jalon is a general assignment reporter for QCity Metro. He is a graduate of North Carolina Central University and an avid sports fan. (jalon@qcitymetro.com)

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Story says suspect is 56 years old and he allegedly committed the crime at 22. Math doesn’t add up. Suspect has to be at least 60 years old today